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Comet Facts: The Largest Comet Ever Spotted is Heading to the Solar System

What is a comet?

A comet is a heavenly body that resembles a snowball and roams in space while orbiting the Sun. It is formed of frozen gases, rocks, dust particles, and other materials. Upon being frozen, all these materials compact into a ball the size of a small town. A comet also has a long tail, formed of gases and dust particles, that stretches away from the Sun. When a comet’s orbit brings it close to the Sun, the comet heats up and all its components expand. The heated dust and gases form a giant glowing head larger than most planets. Comets that orbit the Sun in a fixed amount of time are called periodic comets (like Halley’s Comet); comets without a fixed schedule are called non-periodic comets (like Hale-Bopp); while still others have no defined orbit (like the Great Comet of 1106). Some comets are lost to science, like the 5D/Brorsen.

What is the largest comet known to date?

The Hale-Bopp, discovered in July 1995, was the largest comet known before astronomers made the recent discovery. It has a nucleus of up to 40km (24 miles) in diameter and could be viewed from Earth with the naked eye when it was near. It is so bright that it was visible from Earth in 1995 when it was still outside the orbit of Jupiter.

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What is the latest discovery in the world of comets?

A giant comet has been discovered that is twice the size of the Hale-Bopp. This comet is called Comet 2/2014 UN271, or the Bernardinelli-Bernstein comet. It originated trillions of miles away from the Sun in a distant region of space called the “Oort Cloud.” This comet has a diameter of 62 miles to 124 miles and is approximately 1,000 times more massive than a typical comet. The comet will make its closest approach our Earth in 2031.

Where is the Bernardinelli-Bernstein comet right now?

The comet is currently located at a distance as far from us as Uranus is from the Sun. That is approximately 20 astronomical units (AU). The distance between the Earth and the Sun is one astronomical unit, and equals 93 million miles. Imagine how far the comet is! When it approaches Earth in 2031, it will be at a distance of 11 AU.

Why is this comet special?

Apart from its massive size, the comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein hasn’t visited our inner solar system in 3.5 million years. At that time, one of the earliest human ancestors walked the Earth.

Read the above given paragraph and answer the following questions:

  1. What is a comet’s tail made of?
  • Stardust
  • Only dust particles and rocks
  • Dust particles, cooled gases, and rocks
  • Only gases
Ans: c
  1. Which of the following is a lost comet?
  • Halley’s comet
  • 5D/Brorsen
  • Bernardinelli-Bernstein
  • Hale-Bopp
Ans: b
  1. Why is Bernardinelli-Bernstein special?
  • It is the largest comet observed to this date
  • It last approached Earth 3.5 million years ago
  • It will enter the inner solar system in 2031
  • All of the above
Ans: d
  1. What is the Oort Cloud?
  • A region trillions of miles away from the Earth where the Bernardinelli-Bernstein originated
  • A galaxy
  • Another solar system
  • A cloud in the Earth’s atmosphere
Ans: a

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